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Canada to deport lesbian refugee to country where being gay is a crime

Advocates asking immigration minister for emergency intervention

A lesbian refugee in Vancouver and the people supporting her are reeling from an imminent deportation order, which they say has provided them with little time to prepare an appeal.

Angela, whose last name and specific country of origin in Africa have not been released due to safety concerns, came to Canada in 2014 as an international student and the following year applied for refugee status on the grounds that she faces threats of bodily harm and imprisonment if she were to return home.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada denied her application. However, in July 2016 a newspaper in her home country published an article that included Angela’s full name and that of her girlfriend. Angela’s advocates say the article incited homophobic violence against them.

Sharalyn Jordan, a Simon Fraser University professor whose research focuses on LGBT refugee protection, has been supporting Angela during this process and says the publication of the article last summer has only heightened the danger Angela faces in returning to her country of origin, where gay or lesbian sexual orientation is a criminal offence.

“What happened to her girlfriend is she was apprehended by police and they used the threat of criminal sanctions — imprisonment — to extort money and sex. They sexually assaulted her,” Jordan says. “So of course this is what [Angela] fears would happen to her.”

Angela could not be reached for comment prior to publication.

In the wake of the article’s publication outing her at home, Angela was granted a Pre-Removal Risk Assessment (PRRA), a process designed to ensure people being removed from Canada are not then sent to a country where they are in danger or risk persecution. However, according to Jordan and others involved in Angela’s case, the newspaper article outing Angela was excluded from evidence during this assessment.

None of this was known by Angela, Jordan or the other parties supporting her until Jan 12, 2017, when, during a routine check-in with the Canada Border Services Agency, Angela was informed that her PRRA was unsuccessful and she was going to be deported on Jan 18.

“This rushed timeline is blocking access to even the basic [process], which is the Motion for Stay of Removal which requires three full days,” Jordan says. “This is not normal.”

Chris Morrissey, founder of the Vancouver organization Rainbow Refugee, which assists LGBT asylum seekers, says when Angela received the news she did not have her lawyer present and was not at all prepared. Morrissey says the PRRA decision had been made on Dec 15, 2016, but it wasn’t until almost a month later that anyone was informed.

Morrissey says that in the 17 years she’s been working with LGBT refugees, she has never seen a case in which such a small window of time was provided between delivery of news about a PRRA’s rejection and a deportation date.

“We’ve not seen anything like this with the inability to prepare her for the CBSA interview and the speed with which they decided they were going to remove her,” Morrissey says.

At the time of publication — approximately 24 hours before Angela’s scheduled deportation — her lawyer is presenting her case to a federal judge seeking a stay of removal.

In a press release, Rainbow Refugee and the Vancouver Association for the Survivors of Torture appeal to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Ahmed Hussen for a Minister’s Permit that will allow Angela to remain in Canada.

They are also calling on Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to intervene to ensure Angela is not returned to her country of origin, and that she has continued access to a fair legal process.

The release also quotes NDP Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship critic Jenny Kwan, who says this “is a matter of life and death,” and echoes Rainbow Refugee’s call for a Minister’s Permit.

“In 1993, Canada was amongst the first countries in the world to extend refugee protection to those fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Kwan says. “We know by deporting Angela, we are putting her in grave risk.”

Morrissey says that for LGBT people in Angela’s country — whether or not they have been outed in a far-reaching newspaper the way Angela was last summer — the threat of persecution and violence is ever present.

“In addition to what’s in the law, one of the things that can easily happen is people in the community, like groups of vigilantes, once they know that someone is a member of the LGBT community can — often times with impunity — will attack them,” she says. “That’s why she’s afraid to go back.”